Swimming can be great exercise for dogs, and it’s gentle on your dog’s joints, but not all dogs are quite so keen to take a dip.
Swimming doesn’t come naturally to all dogs, and some need extra care and attention near water, so we’ve put together this guide to help you introduce your dog to the water safely.
Step 1: You want to start with fairly shallow water with no current so that your dog can explore without having to fight tides or currents. A still pond or lake is perfect, or even a paddling pool at home!
Allow your dog to go at his own pace, and never throw your dog into water in a quest to make them love it! It’s a good idea to go prepared for a paddle yourself, so you can show your dog just how much fun it is splashing around in the shallow end!
Step 2: Play some fun games with your dog in shallow water. We want your dog to feel comfortable in the water, so ditch the pressure to start swimming and just begin by building a positive association.
Call your dog to you in the shallow water and offer a treat if they join you. Then throw a much-loved toy for them back to dry land. Rinse and repeat!
When playing fetch in the water with your dog, it’s important to be mindful of how much water they’re swallowing, so throwing your toy onto land is a safer option. If you’re playing fetch and your dog retrieves the item from the water, keep sessions short to prevent too much water intake.
Step 3: Allow your dog to leave the water whenever they choose. Opt for a swimming spot that has easy entry and exit, such as a slope or steps.
Step 4: Once your dog becomes more comfortable in the water, they may naturally choose to explore a little deeper. It’s a good idea to attach a long line so you can quickly help your dog back to shore if they need assistance. Consider using a doggy life jackets for safety and extra peace of mind.
Step 5: When your dog begins venturing deep enough to swim, support your dog under his tummy and encourage him to use his back legs too! The famous doggy paddle is founded on the fact that most dogs instinctively swim with their front legs but forget to use their back legs! This makes swimming much harder work for them so give your dog some gentle guidance and support to develop their swimming skills.
Step 6: Keep swimming sessions short as while your dog is learning to swim, they are using a lot of new muscles and experiencing a lot of new feelings. If you can, try and make visits to places with water regularly so your dog can gradually explore their new love of water.
If your dog isn’t keen at all, then don’t push it. Your dog doesn’t have to swim or even paddle if they don’t want to.
You can try meeting with a friend who has a dog who likes to swim to allow your dog to see how fun it can be and that it’s not as scary as it may look.
Reward your dog just for being close by to water and treat for any interaction with the water to build up your dog’s comfort. To start with, this might be offering a treat for just looking at the water or venturing closer.
Get in for a paddle yourself and make it look like a world of fun. But don’t pressure your dog to join you. Instead, let your dog relax and take things at their pace.
Swimming and a love of water can come a lot more naturally to some dog breeds. For example, Retrievers and Gundogs are usually avid water lovers, but dogs with short legs or brachycephalic breeds need more support.
Some dogs were bred to work in water, such as Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Duck Tolling Retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels, Labradors and Newfoundlands. The dogs will often take to the water with enthusiasm so take care to practise and ensure they have the skills to stay afloat.
Dogs such as Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Basset Hounds, English Bulldogs and Corgis may find swimming more challenging. Their shorter legs and uneven weight distribution don’t make them natural swimmers. Be sure to use a life jacket with these breeds for safety.
Are you ready to take a dip? Check out our round-up of dog-friendly swimming spots in some of our favourite cities.
You may also like to consider sailing with your dog – read up on our top tips for doggy sailing here.
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